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Censored in Indian Country


I didn’t see it coming. After 25 years of writing American Indian news, I didn’t really expect to be blackballed and censored out of the business. But, then again, any journalist writing serious news in the United States should expect to be censored. There are some hot topics that get U.S. journalists fired, including investigating the war in Iraq. U.S. Presidents realize the power of words and song to move the masses. It was Buffy Sainte-Marie’s “Universal Soldier,” during the Vietnam War that led to her being blackballed and censored out of the music business in the U.S.

In Indian country news, there are also hush words, words to be used sparingly, if at all. For editors, those words include two names “Russell Means” and “Leonard Peltier.” Also, in Indian country, reporters know it is unlikely that editors will publish any serious criticism of the war in Iraq or the Bush administration. Reporters also know it is unlikely that their articles will be published if they point out how the elected American Indian tribal councils sell out their people and their land, air and water for energy royalties and energy leases. At the same time, those councilmen and tribal chairmen give voice to the need to protect sacred Mother Earth.

While on staff at Indian Country Today in 2004, the managing editor, a non-Indian, demanded that I halt writing about “grassroots people and the genocide of American Indians.” When I continued, I was reprimanded again. Eventually I was fired without a reason given.

It taught me about history and the soul of America. In the United States, there is this hole in history, and this hole in the hearts of the people, which disallows for these facts: the genocide of American Indians, including the butchering of women and shooting of little children, and the kidnapping, enslavement, torture, rape and murder of blacks.

At ICT, I was terminated after one of my articles was rewritten; turning the exposure of Donald Rumsfeld profiteering from the bird flu’s Tamiflu into a near advertisement for the product. Also before I was terminated, I was instructed to never write about, or even investigate, the fact that the Navajo commercial farm, Navajo Agricultural Products Industries, has a Raytheon Missile factory on the same land where it grows potatoes, corn and other commercial crops. The Navajo Nation owned NAPI also boasts that it uses genetically-modified seeds; seeds leading to widespread misery for the world’s Indigenous Peoples.

I was also told I could not publish a news probe into whether Ben “Nighthorse” Campbell was actually Portuguese or Northern Cheyenne.
Well, most of the usual suspects received good jobs at the big museum in Washington D.C.

The important point is not to be fooled by the newspapers, do your own investigating. The editors, publishers and owners have their own agendas. These days, very little of it has to do with truth. If you want to learn about the destruction of sacred places and all the corporations rushing to poison the land, air and water where you live, you’ll need to search out the information, don’t expect to read about it in your newspaper.

The non-Indian newspapers have no qualms about censorship these days. In the spring, I wrote an article about the Longest Walk for a news publication. A watered-down version of it was published. Here is one of the paragraphs that was censored:

“It was in Greensburg, Kansas, that another dimension of the west opened up, the force of a tornado to rip out a town. The debris was still piled high nearly one year after the tornado of May 4, 2007. I could only think of the billions of dollars going to rebuild Iraq, after the US bombed it; the billions going to the corporate friends of the Bush family. Still, there was hope and abundant love in this town as the people were rebuilding green, focused on solar and wind power and sustainable gardening.”

Hope, that’s what keeps us going, and readers like you.

Thanks for reading.

BRENDA NORRELL is human rights editor for U.N. OBSERVER & International Report. She also runs the Censored website. She can be reached at:




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